Youth Leadership: A Council President’s Reflections

fallinA few weeks ago, our council president addressed the fall meeting of our council leadership. He gave us the usual statistics on membership and how each of us can help with recruiting. He outlined the council property plan, news from field service and outdoor program updates.

But then, he closed with a personal observation. He has two sons in Scouting, one who is almost to Eagle and the other who just crossed over this year. Since he had gone with his older son for the week to his first summer camp, he felt he owed it to his younger son to do the same.

At camp, there were all the usual signs of disorganization in a youth led troop. On the first day, the boys were late for flags and breakfast, not everyone was present for dinner, and things didn’t seem to be going so well. The senior patrol leader was having trouble keeping it together, but the Scoutmaster had confidence that everything would go well.

The next morning was the usual rush to get everyone up and going to breakfast but things improved a bit. The adults stayed in the background and watched, and eventually everyone was off. That evening, the Scoutmaster said to the other adults, “Come on, let’s go down to the dining hall and see if the boys can sort things out.”  There were skeptical looks and comments from the other adults, but away they went.

Troops started arriving at the dining hall for evening flags. “They’ll never get here on time,” one adult was heard to say. But sure enough, right on time, the troop came down the hill, all in uniform, all present and ready.

The Scoutmaster was sure there had been an incident, some shouting, or other ugliness back in camp that resulted in everyone being ready. He asked the senior patrol leader what happened, certain there was a story behind it. “Oh, we just all got ready and headed down here.” The Scoutmaster said “We came down here early and we were sure there was an altercation or something.” Surprised, the senior patrol leader said “You guys were here all the time? We never even noticed!”

Our council president reminded us that the Scouting program works when the boys are in charge. Trust them, get out of their way, and let them lead.

Troops that operate this way are not at all uncommon. In fact, a recent letter to Ask Andy questioned whether this was a good idea, this concept of letting the boys struggle to find their way, to set up their gear, to get themselves together on time. As we know, though, it’s only through doing that the boys will learn these valuable skills. We are certainly capable of doing it for them, but I often repeat “it’s not Adult Scouts, it’s Boy Scouts”. You have to step out of your comfort zone – that urge to optimize the results – and let the process of Scouting take over. To do anything else not only deprives your Scouts of an opportunity to learn, do and succeed, but it also sends them the message that you don’t have faith in their abilities.

So next time you feel the need to ride herd on the boys, whether it’s at a troop meeting or summer camp, try taking yourself out of the picture and let the boys do Scouting without your interference. You will be surprised at what they can do, and they will be encouraged and take pride in what they’ve done. There’s no other way.

This post first appeared on Bobwhite Blather.
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